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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003

    Vancouver  Amnesty Film Festival Forced to Drop Film

    "Some degree of threat  to their physical safety"

    Jim Lipkovits

    According to reports by Duncan Campbell of the Guardian(London), an award-winnning documentary about  Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez and the coup last year that briefly ousted him has become the center of an international dispute. The film was pulled from the Vancouver Amnesty International (AI)
    film festival because Amnesty staff in Caracas said they feared for their safety if it were shown.
     The film, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, was made by two Irish film  makers, Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain as they were preparing a documentary about Mr Chavez, with his cooperation, before the coup.   In April of 2002 when the coup began, they found themselves trapped inside the presidential palace as events unfolded. They kept their cameras running to document this unique historical event.
    Chavez was briefly removed from office by a military coup but returned  to power after 48 hours. The political situation was then, and remains,  no less highly polarised. The president as portrayed by his opponents is a dangerous, anti-US communist, while Chavez supporters see the opposition  as the privileged seeking to preserve their powers from the underprivileged.
    The film portrays Mr Chavez in a sympathetic light and was shown on the  public television channel in Venezuela earlier this year and has since been shown on television by RTE in Ireland and the BBC, recently winning two prizes at the Grierson  documentary awards in Britain. In Venezuela, however, the owners of all the private television channels remain opposed to Mr Chavez.
    Last week, the film was in the line-up  to be shown at the AI film festival in Vancouver. However, the organising committee came under pressure from Chavez opponents in Venezuela and eventually decided not to show it.
    According to John Tackaberry of AI  the decision had been taken only after Amnesty staff in Venezuela had said that, if it were shown, it would present “some degree of threat to their physical safety”.
    They told colleagues that, even if Amnesty ran a standard disclaimer, AI would be associated with the film, thus endangering its staff.
    Tackaberry said the withdrawal was not to do with the film's quality or its politics, as Amnesty did not endorse any of the films at its festivals.
    Other festivals due to show the film, and broadcasters who plan to show it, have been urged not to do so, or to allow a right to reply.
    The report cites a Venezuelan TV producer and engineer, Wolfgang Schalk, as leading the campaign against the film  because  the film presented a distorted version of events. Schalk  claims that after spending five months investigating the film he says “It tells a nice story with 'true' images of a 'coup' from the inside. But my 24 years of experience with TV, and a lifetime of living in Venezuela, told me something was wrong."
    Schalk put togther an ad hoc  committee composed of  a general, a private television station news executive and a police chief to investigate the film. He claimed it became clear that the producers had "changed the order of   the events to fit a story that appeals to audiences."
    An online petition was organised to complain about the film, which Mr Schalk said did not meet the ethical standards of the BBC.
    The film makers defend its accuracy, angered by the attempts to stop the film  from being shown. They state that "Our film presents a perspective on the events of April 2002 which is different to the one presented by the  privately owned media in Venezuela,"
    "Unfortunately, this perfectly legitimate decision by AI to protect the safety of their workers has been distorted by some in order to claim that AI dropped our documentary because of its content."

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